Heraklion is the bustling, built-up capital of Crete. Though more of a modern (and slightly charmless) administrative centre than a place for holidays, Heraklion does have a certain gritty authenticity. Restaurants cater mainly to locals, so the food scene is excellent and affordable.
It is also the closest base if you’re on Crete primarily to visit Knossos, 5km away.
The seaside city of Chania is a vibrant jumble of old and new. The Venetian harbour and old town swarm with tourists in summer, but there are some interesting craft studios and restaurants among the souvenir shops.
Off season, there is a youthful nightlife scene in the meze joints and bars that line every square. The nondescript outlying neighbourhoods have little interest for the visitor.
Often overlooked by travellers, Rethymno’s gentle charms are all the better for it. With a lively student population, this fortified city thrums with energy year-round.
Intriguing remains of the area’s ancient, Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman inhabitants are scattered in and around town. The rest of the Rethymno region feels unscathed by time and tourism.
The south coast is the least developed, good for more independent, adventurous travellers. The golden coastline from Souda to Agios Pavlos feels almost Californian — all lilting sand dunes, yoga retreats, and palm-lined beaches. The two main resorts – Palaiochora in the west and Ierapetra in the east – are relatively unspoiled in comparison to the north coast of Crete.
In the mountain plateau of Lasithi and the Sitia peninsula way out east, you’ll find a more rugged, authentic Crete. Canyons riddled with caves and waterfalls ripple through this agricultural heartland, making this corner of Crete a good choice for low-key hiking holidays. Minoan ruins, monasteries, and sleepy villages speckle the landscape.